Maybe it was because he was so preoccupied with his own back-to-school mission that Jimmy Clausen didn’t see the next move in Charlie Weis’ coaching career coming.
The Carolina Panthers rookie quarterback has been back on the Notre Dame campus for about a week, trying to keep a promise to his parents to get his ND degree while keeping a promise to himself to force as much normalcy into the process as possible.
Getting mildly booed during the Notre Dame-Cincinnati men’s basketball game last Wednesday, when Clausen’s face popped up on the Purcell Pavilion Jumbotron, was a strong hint that the normalcy part might be the bigger part of the challenge.
“It comes with the territory,” the former Irish QB said with a chuckle.
Roughly 1,000 miles away, Weis - the former Notre Dame head football coach - is living in a parallel universe.
Normalcy also comes begrudgingly to the recently anointed offensive coordinator for the University of Florida’s football program. His hairpin turn back to college football after a one-year renaissance in the NFL is only part of the surreal vibe.
The 54-year-old Notre Dame graduate is at Florida, a school he used to grouse about for trying - and sometimes successfully - poaching his recruits. It’s also a school he once lamented for leapfrogging the Irish in the national polls during the 2006 season “when they (the Gators) were at home eating cheeseburgers.”
“That befuddles me,” he said at the time.
Actually, Clausen and Weis seem to be befuddling to a lot of people outside their respective inner circles. Start with the fact that, a year ago, these might have been the last two people Irish fans figured would be setting up shop on a college campus this winter.
Clausen actually had been thinking about it since October when the possibility of an NFL lockout seemed to start shifting toward being a probability.
He has 15 credit hours to go to get his degree in sociology, and, yes, he plans to walk with his class at graduation in May. All that Clausen had left on the academic pallet were electives. So he’s taking a special studies class, a class that deals with music in business, human ethology and coaching youth sports.
The coaching class is not necessarily a peek at life after the NFL for Clausen, but rather a tool to help him relate to kids at the youth clinics he wants to start back in North Carolina and in his native Southern California.
“Whatever I learn in this class probably won’t come close to what I learned from coach Weis,” Clausen said. “As soon as I got to South Bend, he just really helped me in many different ways, not just in football but off the field, mentally and psychologically, and everything like that.”
Start flipping through the Rolodex of players who crossed Weis’ path at Notre Dame, and it’s difficult to find any who deviate from that message.
“He had so much knowledge about football,” said Denver Broncos fourth-year offensive tackle Ryan Harris, who played his final two collegiate seasons at ND under Weis. “I just gleaned everything I could, and I think all the other players did too. I think that’s why so many of us are in the NFL.
“He did a good job of putting position coaches together, too. There’s so much thought that goes into everything he does. It’s a contagious thing.”
But Weis getting banged on by the national media during his five-year run at Notre Dame seemed to be contagious too.
“I think it’s because he’s the type of man who keeps a lot of who he is to himself,” Clausen said. “He doesn’t put himself out there too much for everyone to understand who he truly is.”
So who is Charlie Weis as he relaunches into college football?
“I thought he was a great coach when I played for him, and I think he’s even better now,” said Denver Broncos backup quarterback Brady Quinn, who made a Heisman Trophy run under Weis at ND in 2006.